‘Hair: The Tribal Rock Musical’: 50 years, and more relevant than ever

Courtesy Pentangle Arts

Janelle Faignant

“If you saw somebody with long hair you knew what they stood for,” says Marina Laurendi, 23. She plays Sheila in a cast of 18 professional actors from New York City in Pentangle Arts’ 50th anniversary production of “Hair: The Tribal Rock Musical,” opening Friday (with a preview tonight) at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre.

“(It’s) what the title of the show really aims to capture,” Laurendi continued. “There was so much political and social turmoil going on, so growing out their hair was seen as a sign of standing up against the societal norms of the time.”

And at the root of this production of “Hair” is the idea that love and hate, the divisive emotionally charged currents in the show, are actually two sides of the same coin.

“You can’t have one without the other,” director Joey Murray said. “It’s a love story as much as it is anything else. It’s about young people who are full of rage, but there’s such an undercurrent of love.”

Told in a series of vignettes without a traditional character arc, “Hair” centers on the “tribe” – Claude, Berger, Sheila and their friends – who struggle with love, rebellion, the war, their parents, and the sexual revolution, as Claude decides whether to resist the draft like his friends or succumb to the pressures of his parents.

With book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado and music by Galt MacDermot, it originally opened Off-Broadway in 1967 and has been revived every decade since. It’s been around for a long time, and its relevance only seems to grow.

“I think this is an important piece to be done in today’s day and age because our times right now are closely mirroring what was happening in the 1960s,” Laurendi said. “That was a time of unrest in the country and we’re facing similar things right now.”

“All you have to do is turn on the news to know how relevant and timely ‘Hair’ is today,” Murray said. “And our production hopes to reflect all of this, in a way audiences have never seen or experienced.”

“It’s not going to be the ‘Hair’ that you’ve seen before,” he added.

For instance, “We don’t use the word blocking,” Murray said, referring to the placement of actors on stage. “I don’t even like that word. It’s just about us discovering the piece together.”

Laurendi expounded on that, saying, “(Murray) gives us a lot of freedom in terms of following your instincts, and it’s important because then it does come out organically.”

Murray’s vision was to take a “fresh, totally cinematic take” on the show, and that includes the infamous nude scenes.

“The nudity is tasteful,” Murray said, “and character-driven, so it makes sense.” But, he added, “It’s a full nude scene. We’re not pussyfooting around.”

“What I’m interested in is the juxtaposition between what was going on in the world (then) versus what’s going on now,” he said. “We have no political agenda as a production. It’s just about speaking to people’s fear and anger and putting that in an artistic place. Not to mention it’s going to be so sexy.”

Woodstock Town Hall Theatre

Pentangle Arts presents a 50th anniversary production of “Hair: The Original Tribal Rock Musical” April 19-29 at Woodstock Town Hall Theatre, 31 The Green in Woodstock. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. (Parental advisory: the production contains explicit content, nudity, drug and sexual references and violence.) Tickets are $40, for $38 seniors, $25 for ages 21 and younger ($20 for April 19 preview, $10 for 17 and younger); call 802-457-3981, or go online to www.pentanglearts.org/hair.

Janelle Faignant

Janelle Faignant is a freelance writer living in Rutland.

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